After reading Ernest Cassara's "Harvard Square Observer" for this week, I decided to add my review of Paradise Now to this week's HSC.* The movie's subject is related to Ernest's content. There's an old platitude that goes, "There's no such thing as bad publicity," and I can thank bad publicity for my viewing of the film. A while back when I was adding movies to my NetFlix queue, I came across a synopsis of Paradise Now and rejected it for possible viewing. I was not interested in seeing a movie about Palestinian suicide bombers. But after all of the flack from various sources wanting to ban its Academy Award nomination, seeing it became a must.
Yes, it is a film about two young men living in Palestine who become suicide bombers. Unlike the common depiction of terrorists in movies, these young men are gentle and quite likable. They work together as mechanics, can't stand their overbearing boss, meet girls they find attractive, socialize with friends and family, and have the good, quiet times unique to two loyal friends. In other words, on the surface they appear to be similar to uncountable numbers of young men their age in almost any country or society in the world. Their fatal flaw is that - because of their existence in an "occupied" society - they can see no future. It is impossible for them to foresee a wife, a family and a successful career. Their only sense of worth is their ability to strike out against elements representing their perceived oppressors.
Each young man has a reason for his action and the puppet masters who train and prepare the two take full advantage of those reasons to manipulate their thoughts and actions. These leaders are not wild-eyed fanatics but calm and businesslike in their manner. This adds to your horror as you view the events in the film. There is no insane ranting and spouting of religious and political dogma. There is just the calm, cold planning of the murder of innocent men, women, and children.
The action is designed in such a way as to hold your interest from the beginning to the end. The original plan goes awry and one of the young men spends much of his time wandering the streets looking for the leaders with the bomb still strapped to him. The vest is designed to explode if the wearer tries to remove it - the puppet masters are experts. You do not know until the very end of the film whether the two will actually complete their deadly mission. In addition to presenting a powerful sociological statement, this film is a seat-grabbing thriller.
I am horrified by the thought of young men who are manipulated by their environment and their peers to become drug dealers or commit murder to become a member of a gang or bludgeon innocent people in the name of racial purity. Think of the crew of the bulldozer written about in Ernest's article. Were they monsters or persons so manipulated by their environment and society that they were incapable of changing their actions? What Paradise Now so effectively demonstrates is that those who commit such acts are people, and an insightful examination of the elements that lead to their monstrous acts are necessary in order even to begin to attempt to eliminate such acts.
March 27, 2006
* Refers to an article in the Harvard Square Commentary - click here to read